The Hutton Inquiry has proved the government's case for war was exaggerated. What will it take to get Tony Blair to finally tell the truth?
By Westminster Editor, James CusickTony Blair has assured the Hutton Inquiry that Downing Street "did not own" the dossier on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, that its contents had to be agreed upon with intelligence chiefs and that "no improper weight" should be given to any part of it. This weekend, at the conclusion of the first phase of Lord Hutton's inquiry, these claims now look like a utopian version of the events rather than the harsh political reality now pouring out of court 73 at the Royal Courts of Justice.
In Edinburgh, during the Book Festival last month, the writer Doris Lessing branded Blair "a fantasist". The Prime Minister shrugged off the name-calling. Lessing he can live with. But can he live with the testimony of Dr Brian Jones, once a senior figure in the Defence Intelligence Service, who said parts of the dossier were "over-egged"? Can he live with the testimony of Mr A, an expert in counter-proliferation and arms control who told Hutton last week that "the spin merchants" had taken the dossier "round the houses" to get what they wanted included?
Although Blair told the inquiry on day 11 that the dossier was not meant to be used as the casus belli, immediate reason for heading into conflict, its publication a year ago was central to the strategy that Blair had agreed with the US president, George W Bush.
The existence of weapons of mass destruction (WMD), according to the US deputy defence secretary, Paul Wolfowitz, was the consensus around which Britain would present the case for war. The US had no need for such consensus; regime change, their intention to oust Saddam, was going to be enough. Since the attacks on the World Trade Centre, through gradual media attrition and pro- government pronouncements, most of the US populace believed Saddam to be connected to the atrocities in New York.
In Britain, Blair had no such luxury. The dossier was crucial if, in his words, there was to be a new sense of urgency over the question of rogue states, WMD, and their link with terrorism. This was a new form of terrorism that was not distant, but which could threaten Britain's shores quickly unless stopped.
Publication of the dossier came, according to Blair, after a telephone call with George Bush in which they had decided to confront the issue of Iraq. On his way back from the September Camp David summit with Bush, Blair and his aides constantly referred to the imminent publication of the dossier and what it would reveal. But what was actually going on in London during its preparation?
Blair told Hutton that he needed the dossier to be as strong as possible. Not until last week, and the testimony of Dr Jones and Mr A, did it become clear just what that really meant.
Jones worked in the Defence Intelligence Service, part of the Ministry of Defence rather than part of the intelligence services. His job was intelligence analysis, not intelligence gathering or monitoring. Jones knew Dr David Kelly well, he had met him in the late 1980s, before the first Gulf war.
Six days before the dossier was published last September, Jones said that he'd come back from holiday to find his staff's workload dominated by the dossier. But far removed from the descriptions offered by Downing Street, the Prime Minister and others, the intelligence jigsaw of the dossier was not a document about whose contents everyone agreed. Jones talked of concerns about the "language used". He said changes had been suggested by expert scientists and passed on to the intelligence assessment staff – but the suggested changes were dismissed, not used.
Jones said Number 10's communications people were involved, and that there was evidence of "the tendency in certain areas from [Kelly's] point of view, to, shall we say, over-egg certain assessments in relation particularly to the production of chemical weapons agents."
"Over-egged" is almost quaintly English in flavour and has far less tabloid-enhanced power than the term "sexed-up", but they are close linguistic relatives. Andrew Gilligan used "sexed-up" in the BBC report on the dossier's 45-minute claim which initiated the chain of events that brought about the death of Kelly and thus the Hutton Inquiry.
Jones was just as critical, though his tone was different. He had concerns about the 45-minute claim. The claim, splashed across tabloid newspapers, had immense impact. However, Jones said, "My concerns were that Iraq's chemical and biological weapons capabilities were not being accurately represented in all regards in relation to the available evidence."
During his evidence, Alastair Campbell, Blair's departing director of communications, told Hutton that he had been assured by the head of the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC), John Scarlett, that senior intelligence figures were not unhappy with the approach the government was taking.
Campbell told the inquiry that he had never seen a letter from a former senior intelligence figure (writing to Martin Howard, the deputy chief of intelligence at the MoD) and that unease had been expressed about the way in which assessments were being dealt with. But was Campbell aware of the unease elsewhere?
Jones's evidence described just how widespread the unease was, especially inside his branch and especially on the important 45-minute claim.
Jones said he was eventually able to live with the wording in the dossier, but the intelligence was not beyond all doubt. Even when the dossier was in the stage of final review, Jones had decided to do something he'd never done in 15 years of dealing with the JIC: he wrote a memo expressing his reservations about the dossier's language. And further, there appeared to be a cloud over whether or not there was a final meeting of the JIC to consider the final draft. Jones should have known whether or not there was one, but he did not know one way or the other.
Blair had often repeated the assertion that ownership of the dossier lay with the JIC. But did it? If there was no final meeting of the JIC to sign it off, then why not? Last week, the inquiry released the minutes of a high-level meeting held days before the dossier was published on September 24. The meeting was held in Scarlett's office. Under one heading relating to ownership of the dossier are the words "Ownership lay with Number 10." Lord Hutton may want that clarified in the inquiry's second phase.
The "spin merchants" – especially the head merchant himself, Campbell – will expect that clarification of their precise roles will follow. If there was doubt, the testimony of Mr A, who addressed the inquiry via an audio link to preserve his anonymity, will have shredded the notion that the passage of the dossier through Whitehall was uncontroversial.
Mr A, a casually employed civil servant in the counter-proliferation and arms control department of the MoD, was a close colleague of Kelly. The doctor had visited his home in Swindon in July of last year. They'd talked. But work chat was not on the agenda, which was strange for Kelly. Mr A knew the details of Kelly's involvement in the dossier. He told the inquiry the doctor had suggested many technical changes . Mr A also wanted changes. For instance there was the dossier's reference to the Al-Qa'qa plant which made phosgene.
Mr A said it was a legitimate process at the factory, and the Iraqis had never used phosgene in weapons and had shown no intention of doing so. But that is not what the dossier said. The changes Mr A suggested were not made.
Regarding the 45-minute claim, Mr A said: "It was a statement which seemed to rather beg more questions than it answered." He, with others, did not want it included. They were ignored.
The territory Mr A was describing was not a happy ship, unified in purpose . The dossier was clearly a publication that had struggled its way through Whitehall, past experts who, to say the least, had grave reservations.
Mr A, perhaps referring to one of his bosses, said in an e-mail to Kelly that when he worked on the draft of the dossier it became evident that his superior wanted him relieved of the dossier. In the e-mail, Mr A wrote that this was another example "supporting our view that you and I should have been more involved in this than the spin merchants of this administration. No doubt you will have more to tell me as a result of your antics today." The "antics" referred to Kelly's diary date with a committee, alongside the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw. The e-mail concluded with the phrase: "Let's hope it turns into tomorrow's chip wrappers."
Did the reference to spin merchants refer to Number 10 or perhaps to spin merchants inside the MoD itself, officials willing to spin information into a design they knew would be welcomed by those who would finally "own" and publish the dossier?
Mr A tried to explain. He said the dossier had been "round the houses" several times in order to try and find a form of words which would strengthen certain political objectives.
This was a hammerblow of significance from Mr A. It destroyed the idea that intelligence came first and that policy followed. It floated the notion that Downing Street knew what it wanted, and that Britain's intelligence network was thus split into two distinct camps: the faction that knew what the politicians wanted and were prepared to engineer the delivery; and a second faction that felt unease over what they were being asked to do.
Blair admitted to the inquiry that he wanted a dossier that was as strong as possible. But were key figures involved in drawing up the dossier strong-armed by career figures in Whitehall to either put up or shut up?
Although the remit of Hutton was and is to investigate the apparent suicide of Kelly, that limited remit has so far also exposed much of the inner workings of the government that took Britain to war. It has exposed contradiction after contradiction that Hutton will re-examine in the second phase of his inquiry, when counsel who represent the various parties so far heard at the inquiry will be allowed to cross-examine in order to clarify the position of their clients.
Although the prospect of the Prime Minister returning to give evidence looked slim last week, Kelly's family are reported to be anxious that Blair be cross-examined over apparent contradictions between his formal evidence and public comment he made earlier this year. The family's concern focuses on Blair's involvement in how Kelly's name was confirmed to the media. The PM has said he will fully co-operate with any requests from the inquiry, but his aides remain hopeful he will not be recalled.
The measured tones of Hutton and the inquiry's senior counsel, James Dingemans QC, may now make way for harsher, more abrasive questioning. In the words of one senior counsel who has been observing the inquiry: "Let the fireworks now begin, as they say."
The awkward questions
Geoff Hoon may currently be the Secretary of State for Defence but, according to the evidence he gave to Lord Hutton, he was a Cabinet minister in charge of nothing and nobody, who involved himself in virtually no important decision involving personnel or events inside the MoD.
Prior to the inquiry, Hoon was the favoured fall guy, the man who would take the rap if someone needed to fall on his sword. Hoon's testimony shows he was not prepared to adopt such a role. Hoon insisted that Dr Kelly had been treated well and said he had no direct involvement in events that led to his name being given to newspapers through a bizarre Q&A process involving MoD press officials.
Hoon portrayed himself as a tangential figure, telling Lord Hutton that he was certainly aware "probably second hand" of the handling of Dr Kelly's case.
Yet virtually at the close of phase one last week, Hoon's special adviser, Richard Taylor, told the inquiry that the process of deciding to name, or "out", Dr Kelly had been discussed at a routine daily briefing on July 9, the day the MoD press department confirmed Dr Kelly's identity. And that Hoon chaired that meeting.
So, did Hoon forget about the July 9 meeting?
Hoon said he was not "specifically aware at the time" of the confirmation process going on inside the MoD press office. Lord Hutton may want to know just what not specifically now means.
The process which brought Dr Kelly's name into the public arena, and which obviously caused him great personal stress, is central to the inquiry. Hoon will need to explain in detail why he did not think it necessary to mention this crucial meeting he had attended.
Chances of being recalled: certain
THE Prime Minister addressed the House of Commons on June 4 this year and said: "The allegation that the 45-minute claim provoked disquiet among the intelligence community is completely and totally untrue." Tony Blair told the Hutton Inquiry he wanted a strong dossier, but only with the agreement of the intelligence agencies. The two claims do not sit easily alongside the evidence so far heard in the first round of the inquiry.
It is virtually unthinkable that Blair was not informed of dissent that now looks to have been widespread. Campbell told the inquiry that he did not harden up the dossier and "had no input, output, influence upon them (the joint intelligence committee) whatsoever at any stage". But if Campbell was close to those involved in the dossier, was he aware of the dissent inside sections of Whitehall involved in putting the dossier together, and did this reach the ear of the PM?
From the evidence offered, there was internal pressure on those involved to produce a dossier Downing Street would approve of. Memos shown to the inquiry indicate that Campbell was involved in making recommendations to John Scarlett, the head of the JIC. So was the dossier a darker, more powerful publication because of external pressure on the JIC? Lord Hutton is likely to seek clarification from Campbell on this .
As regards the outing of Dr Kelly, Campbell was apparently in favour of a clean approach; name him directly, no games. The evidence from one of the PM's two official spokesmen, Godric Smith, points to Campbell favouring a process that would have seen Dr Kelly's name leaked to a favoured newspaper. Campbell is thought to have been talked out of the idea. Why? Campbell wasn't usually talked out of anything when it came to media strategy inside Downing Street.
Chances of being recalled: high
Gilligan, defence correspondent for BBC Radio 4's Today programme, claimed the government had sexed up the September dossier and therefore, by implication, had knowingly misled parliament about the scale of the threat from Iraq. Gilligan told Hutton he was the first person to use the "sexed up" accusation. He first used the name of Alastair Campbell in an accusatory manner not in a broadcast, but in a later article for the Mail on Sunday newspaper. Gilligan told the inquiry that it had been Dr Kelly who first suggested Campbell's name.
The precise or imprecise use of language was a major concern of the evidence heard. Gilligan admitted his language was "not perfect" in his first (6.07am) report on the Today programme of May 29. He told the inquiry he had not meant to imply that the government had deliberately told lies. If that sounded like a plea for mercy, Lord Hutton is likely to disregard it.
Gilligan's account was worried over by his bosses at the BBC. But it is the version of his meeting with Dr Kelly that was given by Kelly's friend and fellow weapons inspector, Olivia Bosch, that will trouble Lord Hutton enough to recall Gilligan. Bosch told the inquiry that Gilligan had played a "name game" with Dr Kelly.
She claimed it had been Gilligan, not Dr Kelly, who first brought up the name of Campbell. Another point Lord Hutton may seek to clarify: Gilligan said he had taken notes on his Palm Pilot hand-held computer. Bosch told the inquiry that Dr Kelly's version, given to her, was that Gilligan had taken written notes of their meeting; there was no Palm Pilot. Dr Kelly's own letters, seen by the inquiry, also say it was Gilligan who first raised the name of Campbell.
Gilligan appears to have left many loose threads. Lord Hutton will seek new answers.
Chances of being recalled: very high
Scarlett is head of the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC). He told the inquiry he, Campbell and other officials had met on September 5 last year to discuss not the dossier contents, but the presentation of the dossier. He said he could not recall any discussion on its text.
He revealed the 45-minute claim related not to missiles but to battlefield mortars or small-calibre weapons. Scarlett said nobody in the intelligence community had expressed any dissent to him, other than concern about how the dossier was presented. He admitted that intelligence staff at the MoD (that would have included Dr David Jones) queried whether it was correct to include the 45-minute claim, but said all his JIC colleagues were "completely supportive". He maintained there was no interference from Campbell. He told Lord Hutton that, after a meeting with Campbell on September 9 : "I went away as the person in charge of the whole exercise." The dossier was the property of the JIC, he insisted.
But Jones's account effectively undermines Scarlett's version . Jones said the dossier was "over-egged" and many who had offered input into it had been ignored or sidelined.
Lord Hutton may want to hear from Scarlett again if Jones's version chimes at all with his recall of events . If there were worries, why were they not passed on, perhaps to Campbell and even to the PM? And what of the hint in a memo that it was Downing Street, not the JIC, which actually "owned" the dossier?
chances of being recalled : high